Gate looks to shut out rivals

Australian cycling team Orica-GreenEdge are on the road to reaching a milestone - a hat-trick of titles - at the OCBC Cycle Singapore Professional Criterium but a Kiwi rider could puncture their hopes.

Orica-GreenEdge's sole rider Aidis Kruopis will have to watch out for Aaron Gate, the 2013 Omnium world champion from New Zealand.

The latter is touted to be among the frontrunners for Friday's race at the F1 pit building - which will kick off the three-day OCBC event here.

Gate is keyed up for the fight.

"You know it when your legs feel good and, hopefully, I can feel some of that sensation in the race," said the 23-year-old who will be leading his national team.

"I do think I have a chance as we've got a strong team and I'll need strong guys to help me."

Team-mates will make all the difference in the 90-minute race around the 1.7km circuit.

Similar to road racing, strategy plays a huge role in the high-octane criterium race.

Team-mates protect and pace their leader, allowing him to conserve energy while keeping an eye out for opponents' moves.

In last year's race, for example, Orica-GreenEdge's veteran Stuart O'Grady orchestrated the winning move for Simon Clarke, as he slung his younger team-mate out of the last bend for the final 200m sprint.

But out of the 15 competing teams on Friday, only Kruopis - who was earlier this month crowned the king of sprints at Asia's most prestigious road race, the Tour of Langkawi - will be riding solo.

His team-mates from the Union Cycliste Internationale's Pro Tour squad, who compete at the world's highest level, are currently tied up with the Europe Tour.

Still, Gate is not counting the Lithuanian out yet, saying: "He will be at a disadvantage but he is a fast and experienced rider."

Gate, who finished sixth last year, hopes that his experience and familiarity with the race circuit will work to his advantage.

He predicts that the race will, like last year, come down to that crucial final chicane and the 200m straight before the finish.

Said the 2012 Olympics team pursuit bronze medallist: "That final chicane will be the final say.

"I will focus on positioning because last year I was sixth going in and that's how I finished."

To get there, there is still the matter of staying in the game to avoid getting lapped - and eliminated - especially in the first 20 minutes when participants often ride aggressively to size up the competition.

Ho Jun Rong, the only local rider, hopes to finish the race as he did in 2009, a feat that eluded him in 2010 and 2013.

Said the 23-year-old from the OCBC Singapore Continental Cycling Team, who is known more for endurance than speed: "I'm quite confident of finishing. It's all down to the first few laps."

The 8.30-10pm race will reward its winner with US$12,500 (S$15,800). It is free to watch for spectators.

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